Arlington, VA

Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The McMansion is the universal punching bag for housing politics in Arlington.

It is a symbol for both pro-growth and anti-growth advocates of everything that is wrong with our land use and zoning policies.

For those who fear growth and decry upzoning, the McMansion is a threat to the suburban Arlington of yore, when a couple of middle-class public servants could afford a three-bedroom home on a tree-lined street. “Greedy developers” snatch up these modest bungalows and bulldoze them to make way for a monstrosity, leveling trees in the process.

For those who embrace growth and welcome upzoning, the McMansion is a failure to accommodate our growing population, allowing access to a single, affluent family, rather than allowing 2 or more families the same opportunity. Restricting density in popular neighborhoods limits our ability to create walkable urban places that are vibrant and full of opportunity for people at all income levels.

While I harbor no ill-will toward anyone who lives in a newly-constructed, 5,000 sq. ft. million+ dollar home, the prevalence of this type of dwelling signifies a failure of our housing market to meet the demand of our residents. If we conclude that McMansions are a symptom of a problem, perhaps we can agree on a solution.

In the first “research compendium” published as part of the Missing Middle study, Arlington County staff lay out the impact that single-family redevelopment has had on our housing supply.

Much of Arlington was developed in the 1930s through 1950s, which means many of our homes are older stock, roughly 1,500 square feet with 2 or 3 bedrooms. In just the past ten years, 8% of all of Arlington’s single-family detached homes have been either been torn down and replaced or substantially renovated. The newly-constructed replacement homes average 4,750 sq. ft. and cost an average of $1.7 million dollars.

Overall, Arlington County analysis shows that “the average sales price for a detached single-family house increased 45% between 2010 to 2019.”

With the increasing price of single-family homes, middle-class Arlington families have few opportunities to buy. At an average of $1.7 million dollars, a McMansion is only affordable to a family making $485,000 per year, which is more than three times the income of the average Arlington family of four.

McMansions are also outsized for the needs of most families. Data shows that the size of a typical household is decreasing, while the size of new homes continues to rise. In the last fifty years, the average square feet of living space per person has nearly doubled.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

This piece was co-written by Gillian Burgess.

Next month, the Arlington County Board will approve its Capital Improvement Plan (or CIP) after a truncated process. This critical component of Arlington’s budget outlines the investment that the county will make in infrastructure in the future.

Unfortunately, the County Manager’s proposed CIP budget is setting us up to perpetuate inequities in our infrastructure investments at a time when we should be responding to a crisis by pursuing equity.

The typical CIP budget process involves months of community input. It also typically projects out the investments that the county will make over the next 10 years. This long-term planning is essential for infrastructure projects that will serve residents across the county for many years to come. It is so time-consuming that it typically only happens every other year. The last CIP was adopted in 2018.

However, under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed a budget with only one year of investments, with a promise to come back next year with a longer-term (4-6 years) investments. Mr. Schwartz said he was guided by five principles in these making the county’s investments:

  1. Finish projects that are underway;
  2. Repair infrastructure that is failing or at the end of its life;
  3. Meet legal and regulatory obligations;
  4. Make investments to address the pandemic;
  5. Implementing the body-worn camera for police, sheriff, and fire marshalls; and
  6. Invest in strengthening stormwater infrastructure.

The first five categories can be described as “needs and requirements,” but the sixth is the only new investment the county is considering. Funding for the projects come from many sources: grants, specific fees, real estate taxes (through the annual operating budget) and bonds, which the public votes on in November. Many of those sources are restricted in what they can be used for, such as grants for transportation projects.

The Manager’s Proposal leaves new projects that we typically see in the CIP — everything from parks to bike lanes — unfunded and delayed for at least a year. This year, the Manager is recommending a bond referendum of $51 million to fund the first round of stormwater projects. If approved, this would be the first time a bond was issued specifically for stormwater infrastructure (previously, stormwater had been funded by the stormwater tax and utilities bonds).

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Minnesota. My family didn’t talk about race, but we had plenty of ways to indicate that black people were not our neighbors. I remember my parents warning me not to cross the river into Minneapolis. Once, after taking the wrong exit into a black neighborhood of Northern Minneapolis, my dad told me to lock the doors as we drove through.

This prejudice didn’t disappear when I moved to deep blue, progressive Arlington. But now I am more aware of the coded language white people use to mark black people as outsiders. I read Nextdoor complaints about people from outside the neighborhood playing basketball in Virginia Highlands Park. I’ve seen posts on DC Urban Moms decrying the school busses that pull up in front of Arlington’s affordable housing buildings. Without ever mentioning race, we can clearly show who is and isn’t welcome in our neighborhoods.

Our impulse to separate ourselves from our black and brown neighbors is deadly. Research from Boston University shows “racial residential segregation was the predominant factor explaining why some cities have greater black-white racial disparities in fatal police shootings — even after controlling for a city’s crime rate, median income, racial composition of its police force, and other factors.”

Now we are mourning the murder of George Floyd, a black man from South Minneapolis, by a police officer who thought he was a threat. The perpetrator, Derek Chauvin, lived in the white suburb of Oakdale. Neither man lived far from where I grew up, but as the New York Times explains, these two neighborhoods are worlds apart. The Twin Cities metropolitan area used to have a region-wide affordable housing mandate and Minneapolis consciously desegregated its schools, but these policies lost white support in the 1980s. Now, the region has one of the largest racial wealth gaps in the country.

In the twenty-first century, Arlington has removed most of the obvious racism from our housing policy. The segregation wall at Hall’s Hill was literally washed away by flooding in 2019. The black neighborhood that was removed to clear land for the Pentagon has a commemorative plaque.

But even without racial covenants or redlining, the consequences of which remain with us, we have plenty of tools to separate white and black families.

Exclusionary zoning — the rules that prevent anything but a detached, single-family home from being built in certain neighborhoods — is the modern form of residential segregation. In Arlington, zoning on 87% of our 26 square miles bans anything except a detached single-family home. Our site plan review process, which is overly deferential to existing homeowners, prevents or delays the creation of new committed affordable housing.

Today, single-family neighborhoods have become gated communities that are accessible only for the wealthiest families, who are disproportionately white. This prevents black families from gaining opportunities and building the wealth that could reduce racial disparities. And when black families do live in these exclusive enclaves, they can be subject to surveillance and police scrutiny.

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Jane Green writes a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On May 6, a select group of Arlington Democrats voted to endorse Takis Karantonis as their candidate in the special election to fill the seat vacated due to the tragic illness and death of Erik Gutshall.

(Full disclosure: My husband was a member of the closed caucus and I serve with Takis Karantonis on the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions.)

Erik was an advocate for Missing Middle housing during his campaign for the County Board in 2017. Following that race was what first brought me into local politics as a relatively new Arlingtonian. Erik also clearly understood the connection between housing and other zoning regulations and transportation policy, such as the role of residential parking requirements.

As Arlington’s population grows in the urban corridors, both those along Metro lines, but also along Columbia Pike and Lee Highway, the County Board will benefit from Takis’s direct experience with economic development in Arlington. (Although I am personally disappointed that we won’t have a renter on the Board.)

In their endorsement, Greater Greater Washington acknowledged Karantonis’s “long record of fighting for less fortunate people and an area of the county that has not gotten the planning or transportation investments it needs.” (I no longer work for Greater Greater Washington and I had no role in making the endorsement.)

In answering the candidate questionnaire released by the Alliance for Housing Solutions, Takis emphasized the specific, practical tools that he sees available for the County to expand the diversity of our housing options, while also creating affordable homes for low-income residents.

Takis recognizes that many types of housing are “compatible with the gentle transition from our commercial corridors to our established neighborhoods.” He sees the Form-Based Code model is a good way to provide a “level of predictability” for adding “missing middle” housing types into residential areas that border commercial zones – including micro-units, stacked flats, duplexes and triplexes.

As for committed affordable housing, Takis wants to use tools such as the recent zoning amendment “to incentivize the creation of more onsite affordable units on the land being developed.” Recognizing that our high housing costs are due to the high cost of land, he would explore land banking, Transfer of Development Rights, Tax Increment Financing, and Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing as opportunities to produce more affordable units. I am looking forward to learning more about his policies in the next two months.

Currently, two other candidates have stepped forward for the July 7 special election. Susan Cunningham also wants to emphasize planning in Arlington’s non-Metro corridors. Based on her candidate statement, she is interested in “selective upzoning to enhance business viability and housing choice and affordability.” She emphasized “long-term planning” to balance growth with facilities investment, open space, and County spending.

The Arlington Republican Party has also announced a candidate. While Bob Cambridge does not have a campaign website at the time of this writing, the Arlington GOP platform states a commitment “to maintain an ample supply of market-rate affordable housing, to avoid the need for housing subsidies.” Additionally, they support job creation in the County and “fair and reasonable zoning” — although what that means specifically remains to be seen.

It will be impossible to fill Erik Gutshall’s shoes, and it will be up to Arlington voters if they want an equally passionate advocate for diverse and affordable housing on the County Board when we vote on July 7. Regardless, the election will shape our County during this critical time, when we can look outward and be welcoming of new residents, or be insular and closed off. I hope everyone follows the campaigns and makes their voice heard. You can request an absentee ballot online here.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. By day, she is the Membership Director for Food and Water Watch and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It is impossible to follow Virginia’s “stay-at-home” order if you do not have a home.

The emerging economic crisis across the country, as layoffs skyrocket, could leave millions of people with unaffordable housing, or even homeless. It goes without saying that increased homelessness and crowding within homes puts our community at risk for an even worse outbreak than we are already experiencing. For this most obvious reason, the County Manager’s proposed budget for FY 2021 puts a high priority on funding acute housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arlington’s FY21 budget had to undergo a complete makeover in the past month, given the expectation of lower tax revenue and higher costs from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the County Manager has wisely prioritized support for housing in the coming year. This includes:

  • Maintaining the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF), Arlington’s revolving loan program for creating and preserving long-term housing for low-income families, at its FY 2020 level of $16 million.
  • Increasing the funding for Arlington’s housing grants, which provides rent vouchers to eligible low-income residents.
  • Increasing the funds for permanent supportive housing, which helps residents coming out of homelessness.

The County Manager also introduced a new contingency fund to address emerging needs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Crucially, this fund designates $2.7 million “to ensure that the basic needs of food and shelter are met for our residents, particularly those who have lost their jobs.”

This is a critical area of need that will not only help residents in the greatest need, but support overall public health by giving vulnerable residents a home to shelter in during the pandemic. In the original FY 2021 budget, the County Manager proposed an increase the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. However, shifting this money to address acute needs is prudent giving the current crisis.

It is unfortunate that this budget does not include new funding to support the Housing Arlington initiative, that held promise for addressing the systemic issues limiting our housing supply and prohibiting moderate-priced housing. We must increase our production of housing, both market-rate and subsidized, in order to keep people in housing that is affordable at their income. An ample supply of housing at all price points is a public health priority.

Disease spreads in conditions of crowding, not density. And while programs like the Missing Middle Study cost money now to fund staff time and community engagement, they could lead to new tools for increased housing affordability without county funds, such as reducing permitting burdens and updating zoning regulations.

In the immediate term, however, we need to help people stay in the housing they already have. That is why the County also needs to consider expanding the qualifications for the Housing Grants program. Restrictions on these funds prevent them from assisting some of Arlington’s most vulnerable residents.

The County should work with the Department of Human Services and other relevant stakeholders to find ways to include immigrant households that lack documentation and individuals who have never had a prior lease in their name, which could include young people aging out of foster care or people experiencing domestic violence.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her husband and son. By day, she is the Development Director for Greater Greater Washington and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

Housing is critical to public health. Arlington needs to be judicious with its funds and continue to look for ways to support housing for our neighbors in the midst of this pandemic. The Arlington County Board will vote on the FY 2021 budget on Thursday, April 30. Let us keep everyone housed and beat the virus together.

 

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

We are now in Week 4 of social distancing. Schools are closed. Most stores are closed or pick-up only. Arlingtonians who are not fortunate enough to be teleworking are faced with furloughs, layoffs, or difficult travel to essential work. Arlington has even closed parks, fields, courts, and playgrounds.

These are difficult changes that are intended to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections.

But as we prepare to stay at home until June 10, as the governor has ordered, we will need outlets for safe outdoor exercise. About half of Arlington County residents do not have a yard. Our public and private spaces are incredibly limited.

The sidewalk is nearly all that is available to us to get exercise and fresh air, which is critical for a lasting commitment to social distancing. Arlington County even agrees that individual outdoor exercise is a legitimate activity.

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVA/status/1247881918697406464

Anyone who has tried to go for a walk in the past few weeks can plainly see that our neighborhoods were not built for social distancing. None of our sidewalks are wide enough for people to pass with 6 feet of distance. But while you might blame density for the crowded conditions, the problem lies in the 30 feet of pavement we have devoted to cars.

With all that has changed about our lives, our deference to cars has remained. Even as the streets have emptied of commuters, shoppers, and visitors, our roads remain unchanged. Arlington residents have made voluntarily limited our freedom of movement. We need to expect the same for cars.

Across the country, cities are blocking of parkways and widening sidewalks. Arlington County needs to make our community safer for outdoor recreation by repurposing street space. Instead of privileging cars, we need to create priority for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. This is a critical issue of public health. For social distancing to be successful, we need to give people opportunities to go outside.

You don’t even have to take it from me. Dan Rather agrees (although we shouldn’t wait until later).

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

This piece was cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

When I moved to Arlington in 2015, it was the largest metro area I had ever lived in, with the most extensive public transportation and the best examples of mixed-use development. My husband and I picked an apartment building next to a Metro station to facilitate an easy commute. We are fortunate to be able to afford the cost premium of living in such a great location.

I grew up in a large suburban home. We literally had an entire bedroom devoted to our Barbie doll collection and a whole closet for Legos. We had a yard big enough for a garden and a playhouse. But I never had friends over who didn’t come by car.

Now I am raising two kids in a two-bedroom apartment. I never saw these close quarters as a problem because we have playgrounds, museums, libraries, and even a mall at our fingertips. Our apartment has common space when our preschooler needs a change of scenery. I have always embraced our limited private space because it pushed us out into the community. Spending so much time in the neighborhood has made Arlington feel like home. But social distancing has taken all of this away.

We know from public health experts that social distancing — limiting our proximity and interactions with people outside of our families — is critical for slowing the spread of coronavirus and preventing our medical system from becoming overwhelmed. I need to acknowledge that we are incredibly privileged to have secure jobs, deep savings, and many layers of support. We will weather this crisis. But being stuck in the house is a real drag. It’s not just the lack of space. It’s the limitations on social connections.

It is in public social spaces — the playground, the library — that we’ve built our community. What I love about our neighborhood is the ability to see friends and acquaintances as we go about our day. On a walk to the library, I can see half a dozen people that I know just by chance. What’s the point of paying a premium for Metro access when the Metro is essentially closed and all of the things I would visit downtown — my office, museums, restaurants — are closed?

The point of living in a walkable urban place is to connect with people. Right now, it would be great to have my own private yard, basement, and home office. But these features of suburban life create a default social distance that I don’t want under normal circumstances.

For the past five years, density has given me everything I wanted in a community. Now, the virus has taken all of that away. But when this crisis passes, I won’t be looking for a house out in Fairfax County. Instead, I’ll be looking to rebuild the social connections with friends and neighborhood acquaintances that I haven’t been able to see.

For now, I am grateful for a few remaining outlets for enjoying public space such as bike lanes and the community garden. I am thankful that my family and friends are healthy. And I am wishing health, safety, and sanity for everyone, no matter how many square feet you have.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her husband and son. By day, she is the Development Director for Greater Greater Washington and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of joining the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS).

The Alliance advocates for affordable housing in Arlington that meet the needs of all income levels and stages of life. This includes both committed affordable housing developments that are income restricted for low-income residents and market-oriented solutions such as ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) that will provide unsubsidized lower-cost housing.

This year, Arlington is at a cross-roads that will determine our commitment to affordable housing. I hope you’ll join me and other AHS supporters to call on the County Board to grow our stock of committed affordable housing with a strategic investment of $25 million in the Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

The Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF or “A-Hif”) is a low-interest loan program that helps developers build and preserve committed affordable housing in Arlington County. It is a revolving fund that receives money from private developers (like $20 million from Amazon for the first phase of HQ2), federal grants, and County contributions.

The County Board distributes AHIF loans to worthy projects, which affordable housing developers use to build or renovate multi-family properties. These developers then repay their AHIF loans, putting the money back in the fund to be used for future projects. This revolving fund is a catalyst for affordable housing developers to get the financing they need to increase our supply of income-restricted units.

In the last twenty years, low-income Arlingtonians have faced increased rent pressure. Because of increased demand and redevelopment, we’ve lost over 16,000 unsubsidized apartments in the open low-rent market that had been affordable to lower-income households. The County is attempting to make up the deficit by investing in committed affordable units. But they’ve only been able to reach half their goal each of the last five years. That means we’re falling further behind, as 28,000 Arlingtonians try to find decent affordable housing on an income of $36,000 per year.

Since adopting the Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015, the County Board has allocated an average of $14.3 million to AHIF and added only 298 units each year, when their annual goal is 600 units. We now have a 1,500 unit deficit and only 9% of our housing stock is affordable to families making 60% of the Area Median Income or less, which is about half of what we need to accommodate our low-income neighbors. We can’t keep taking the same action and expect better results. This year, the Board needs to take bold action by allocating $25 million to AHIF, an increase of $9 million.

The County Manager released the FY 2021 budget, which includes only $2.7 million more for AHIF. Another $2.3 million could come from Columbia Pike Tax Increment Financing and potentially another $2 million from a future increase in the County’s cigarette tax. If adopted, this could increase AHIF by a maximum of $7 million. The County Board would have to vote for all of these options, and the amount would still be below our goal of $9 million in new funds.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On January 23, the Land Use subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considered two bills from Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (D-Fairfax) to remove the restrictions of single-family zoning from Virginia neighborhoods.

HB 151 would have overridden local bans on accessory dwelling units and HB 152 would have forbade local authorities from banning duplexes on residential lots.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, these bills failed to launch out of their subcommittees. We need to build support now so they will have better luck next year.

The report on the hearing from WAMU called the proposal “ambitious,” but Delegate Samirah’s bills were very minimal interventions into local housing policy. They would simply allow two units on residential land currently limited to a single unit. This would have permitted smaller, lower-cost, and more land-efficient homes throughout the state, especially in more urban areas where housing costs are increasing rapidly.

But other regulations, such as setbacks and parking requirements that inhibit “missing middle” housing, would have remained.

These bills have something for both liberals and conservative. Democrats can take a stand for affordable housing and neighborhood diversity, as well as sound environmental policy. Republicans can claim a victory for individual property rights. It should be a win-win. My colleague at Greater Greater Washington, Alex Baca, spoke in favor of the bill, as did Emily Hamilton, representing the conservative Mercatus Center.

Yet, as we’ve seen many times, housing policy debates do not fall along party lines. Instead, incremental changes, which actually re-legalize housing types that were common in urban neighborhoods a century ago, are victims of suburban identity politics. It doesn’t help that the Land Use subcommittee has no voting members from Northern Virginia, where the housing shortage is most acute.

But despite the widespread yearning for a yard and your own four walls, I simply don’t understand why anyone would object to a duplex next door. Duplexes can look just like a single-family home. Instead of razing an older home to construct a 6,000 square foot McMansion, the same lot could have two 3,000 square foot homes.

In the urban environment, detached homes are the only hope for middle-income families to purchase a “starter home.” Many desirable neighborhoods, such as Del Ray, already have duplexes and small apartments interspersed with single-family homes. This form of density is necessary for creating walkable neighborhoods with retail, restaurants, and other amenities. An none of this prohibits single-family homes from being built.

I hope more delegates from Virginia’s dense cities and counties, especially delegates who represent Arlington, will help champion Delegate Samirah’s bills when they come to the legislature in 2021. Opening all residential land to duplexes, when the property owner desires, is a simple, modest, and easy step toward addressing the state’s housing shortage.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

I have lived in Arlington for almost 5 years and I’ve come to see the “Arlington Way” as both a blessing and a curse on the County.

For those not familiar, the Arlington Way as a tradition of citizen democracy, realized through an extensive culture and apparatus for public engagement around most County policies, as well as new commercial or residential developments. The goal is to give residents many opportunities to influence, or at least register their opinion, on a range of regulatory and administrative topics and projects that will have a broad impact.

However, the problem with this reliance on resident voices is the over-representation of the whiter, older, home-owning population. This does not reflect the Arlington’s diversity. County-wide, less than half of housing units are owner-occupied — 44.5%. These households are much more likely to be White than Black or Latino.

Because our tradition and apparatus for soliciting public input privileges homeowners and leaves out renters, many people have the opinion that renters are not invested in Arlington. We saw the manifestation of this attitude in the Sun-Gazette’s November 27 editorial, which argues that renters should not be mobilized to participate in local elections because they “have short-term interests in a community they do not plan to live in forever.” I’m heartened to see the results of ARLnow’s poll show a more inclusive attitude.

But the difficulties in engaging Arlington’s renter majority remain, and it should be the county’s New Year’s Resolution to bring more renters into the civic engagement process. I also encourage renters who are reading this to make a commitment to get more involved in their neighborhoods.

There are many civic organizations in Arlington that are conscientiously working to improve the representation of Arlingtonians in public discourse. My own civic association, Aurora Highlands, has a mix of single-family homes and multi-story apartment buildings. During my year on the executive board, I’ve been pleased by the effort to bring more renters into the conversations. The Arlington Civic Federation, a venerable institute for amplifying resident opinions, is also working to be more diverse as well.

But we can do more to bring renters and other underrepresented groups into to public discourse.

The County Board and its staff should use their influence with developers and property owners to ensure better communication about the Arlington Way with renters. Management companies need to help their residents be part of the community. This isn’t just the community within the building, but the broader neighborhood beyond their doors. Every apartment building, particularly those with professional management, should participate by distributing Civic Association newsletters, letting the Civic Association hold a meeting in their community space, and inviting County staff and board members to speak to residents. Some effort on the part of property managers can go a long way to show that renters want to have a voice in the County.

Happy New Year! Let’s resolve to make 2020 a great year for civic participation from all Arlingtonians.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her husband and son. By day, she is the Development Director for Greater Greater Washington and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Any time Arlington County gets access to land within our 26 square miles is a cause for celebration. It also requires a firm commitment to make the best possible use of this extremely limited and valuable resource.

On December 14, the County Board may vote to acquire the benefit of a new piece of property just blocks from the Crystal City Metro Station. We need to make sure this opportunity isn’t undone by the cry for parking.

South Arlington’s Crystal House apartment complex, comprised of two 1960s-era high-rise buildings, is slated for infill development. The site plan will be on the County Board’s December 14 agenda.

The staff recommendation contains what Planning Commissioners called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for achieving the Crystal City Zoning Ordinance’s affordable housing obligation. Instead of providing 47 units of committed affordable housing within the complex, Roseland is offering to convey one portion of their property, currently a surface parking lot, to the County. The understanding is that the County could develop this property with at least 81 units of committed affordable housing.

The benefits of this proposal are enticing.

First, by owning the land and working with an Affordable Housing developer, the County Board could create units that would remain affordable to low-income residents for 60 years, unlike the typical 30-year term for on-site affordable units within market-rate developments. Second, the location of this parcel at 22nd and Eads would provide excellent transportation access for the building’s residents. Third, by owning and developing the property, the County could provide a much-needed community facility for the 22202 ZIP code, in addition to the committed affordable housing, such as we see at Arlington Mill.

But these positive benefits are future opportunities that will require a commitment to realize. The only thing Arlington would get in the short-term is a surface parking lot. And it is a particularly contested parking lot. Business owners from the adjacent “23rd Street Restaurant Row” see these 96 spaces as the key to their business.

Any effort to build on the parking lot will continue to face pushback from the merchants. Roseland is offering this parcel not only to achieve bonus density on their site, but also to get out of the parking fight. By accepting the land, Arlington County is stepping into a battle that could stymie any effort to achieve affordable housing.

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